Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Otherlife - Book Review

The Otherlife
Julia Gray
YA Contemporary  
UK Publisher: Anderson Press


Three years ago, Ben’s beloved tutor, Jason, died in myserteous circumstances. And he begins to wonder if his old friend Hobie had something to do with it…

I always get away with it when I try stuff like this. Partly it comes down to sort of assuming that I’m going to. I’ve got loads of confidence. And Loki got away with everything. Well, almost everything.

When troubled, quiet Ben begins at the ruthlessly competitive Cottesmore House, school to the richest, most privileged boys, he is befriended by Hobie: the wealthy class bully, product of monstrous indulgence and intense parental ambition.

Hobie is drawn to Ben because he can see the Otherlife: a violent, mythic place where Gods and Monsters roam. Ben has unnerving visions of Thor and Odin, and of the giant beasts that will destroy them, as well as Loki, God of mischief. Hobie is desperate to be part of it.

Years later, Ben discovers his beloved tutor, Jason, is dead. And he can’t help wondering if Hobie — wild, restless, dangerous Hobie, had something to do with it…


Such an incredible read! This book was really something else. Normally I detest contemporary stories but I found this one — with it’s undercurrent of norse mythology and otherworldly undertones — to be absolutely fantastic!

The author, Julia Gray, packs so much into this story. So much so, that I’m claiming this as my favourite book of 2016 so far.… Although it wasn't until I finished the book that I realised the picture on the front cover is actually a wolf. I thought it was just a pretty decoration.

Ben can see the Gods and monsters of old. Odin and Loki, Freya and Skoll, they hover at the end of his vision in ever moving shapes and colours. But now they have a message for Ben. His old tutor, Jason, is dead. And deep down, Ben knows it was his best friend, Hobie, who is to blame. 

Hobie is rich, spoiled and stressed out from the overbearing ambitions of his parents. When he befriends quiet, scholarship student Ben, his mind is opened to a world he never knew existed. The world of the otherlife. But Ben’s tales of Gods and Monsters are not enough to satisfy Hobie. He wants to witness the stories unfolding himself… and he will do anything to make it happen.

What started as something a little confusing, soon turned into a delicious, page-turning read. Told from two viewpoints, across two time periods, the story takes a few chapters to get into, but it is definitely worth the effort. 

In the beginning I found both Ben and Hobie sounded quite similar. It wasn't until I was about 20% in that I really began to distinguish them in my mind.

Ben is the more mystical (but strangely down to earth) character. Pressurised to do well at school, he also suffers the arguments of his recently divorced parents. He is the one who “invents” the Otherlife. Created from his fascination with Norse mythology and brought to life after an head injury, he makes the world of the Otherlife into a plausible thing. 

Amazingly, not once did I perceive Ben as crazy. I just accepted that he saw what he said he did. I believe this is one of the biggest things that made this book so brilliant. The seamless merge of fantasy and reality. 

In that way it reminded me a lot of Clare Furniss’ book - the year of the Rat. However fans of Sally Green’s Half Bad Trilogy, or anyone who just likes unique voices will enjoy this story. Although the divide between dreams and reality really blurred at the end of the book, and I couldn't help think THE OTHERLIFE turned a little Alice in Wonderland on us. In a good way of course.

Then there was Hobie. He was incredibly interesting in his thoughts and I loved his view of the world. A very layered character. He’s the sort of person you hate in real life but love to read about. He brought such emotional depth to the story. 

The only element of the book I didn't like was both Hobie’s and Ben’s parents. They were so selfish, and a little stupid. Of course the story was told from the perspective of two twelve-year-old boys, but I often agreed with them that their parents were crazy. Yet at the same time, I understand that some parents can generally be that overbearing. Everyone has/knows someone who had strict/protective/ambitious parents.

Otherwise, I adored how much Julia Gray squeezed into this book. It explores the issues of addictions, eating disorders, over indulgence, divorce and so much more. Everything slotted naturally into the plot and felt like it belonged. The writing wasn't preachy, it simply made the reader aware that such problems exist. 

The plot also held a lot of mystery. As a reader there was so many questions that I wanted answers to, and I’m pleased to say the end wrapped everything up in a nice big bow. The story came full circle, although it was quite sad - but satisfyingly so. I can’t imagine the book ending any other way.

Overall - I really loved this book. I do however think it will be something you will either really like, or really hate depending on how you perceive the characters. For me, the underlining story of the Norse Gods made this book really special. A truly beautiful piece of fiction.

 I generally can’t believe this is a debut book. I’m eager to read whatever Julia Gray writes next. 

I give THE OTHERLIFE 5 stars!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Magic Bitter Magic Sweet - Book Review

Magic Bitter Magic Sweet - Book Review
Charlie N. Holmberg
YA Fantasy


Marie is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn't know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Marie is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size altering cakes.

During her captivity, Marie is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is — as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences. 


This was a strange yet interesting book. Intrigued by the title, I picked it up on a whim without really knowing much about it. 

Marie doesn’t know who she is. Other than her name, her past is a blank slate. Her only comfort comes from baking. Cakes, breads and biscuits, all infused with a pinch of magic that can replenish  strength, add cheer or bring luck to all who purchase her confectionaries. 

But when marauders invade, Marie is captured and sold as a slave to a strange master—and somehow, he knows all about her magic. Now as Marie fights to complete each impossible task, she takes solace in the company of a winged spirit. One who insist’s her freedom likes in unlocking her memories. But the more Marie remembers, the more she wishes she could forget. Because some crimes are better left buried…

This book was truly charming. The writing flows very well and I was instantly captivated by Marie’s character. Her magical baking aside, she isn't anything special, and I think that was why I liked her as much as I did. She acts in very realistic ways, and always manages to find proper solutions to her problems. No instant fixes, no-overly complicated magic, the author stays true to the rules of the world. 

However, while I was intrigued by the beginning, I think around the midway point I got a little bored. Not enough to stop reading the book, but I caught myself on more than one occasion wishing for something else to happen. 

There were a few reasons for this. First I felt the action drifted off and Marie became stuck in the same setting. We had to read about her doing the same mundane things. Then in the last third of the book, “the villain” lost all his villainy. While the writing was still pretty, I felt this took away much of the story’s punch. Also the direction of the plot turned predictable, BUT I  still liked the happily-ever-after ending.

This story had many fairy-tale like elements - the gingerbread house was particularly amusing - although I was disappointed we didn't get to meet the actual witch. But it was after this point that the story took a strange turn, and the book I thought I was reading turned into something different. Not bad, but definitely different. 

Then there was the sprinkle of Romance. I use the word sprinkle because there wasn't much of it - and truly it was based more around friendship and eternal love… and also family. It’s hard to explain. But when the romance came, it left me quite confused for many pages. Partly because I pictured “the guy” as an old man. However the book doesn't give much description, so I’m sure many readers would have created a different image in their heads. Hopefully a much younger one!

What I loved about this book though, was how much it made me want to bake. Since finishing this story I’ve spent many hours in my kitchen cooking all sorts of things. It was one of things that made this book so lovely.

All in all though this is a difficult story to review. I really loved the writing (for that alone, I will definitely be checking out more books by this author) but I didn't like how the plot sizzled out. Yet I really enjoyed the characters… at least until the villain stopped being the villain. 

With all those things in mind, I give this book 3 stars. A little bitter, a little sweet, a little magic :) 

One nice afternoon read. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

E.K Johnston's Top 5 YA Novels + UK Giveaway

Today on the blog I am lucky enough to welcome E.K Johnston - author of the fabulous, A THOUSAND NIGHTS. 

You can see the lovely new paperback edition featured above - and if you haven't already - you can check out my review of the book HERE

Otherwise here are EKJ's

Top Five YA Novels Of All

CODE NAME VERITY, by Elizabeth Wein

I got to read an ARC of this because they were looking for Canadian bloggers on NetGalley, and even though my bookblog was mostly defunct at the time, I resurrected it for this. I’d had a few UK friends tell me it was amazing, and I wanted IN.

The thing I love about CNV (besides, you know, everything) is that both Julie and Maddie are heroic in different ways, and neither of them really considers herself a hero. They’re both messes – and for good reason – and they both keep trying anyway, and I love them to pieces for it.

The other thing I really love, from a craft standpoint, is how EW built the novel’s structure. The best example is the scene with the American radio interview. You read Julie’s version first, and then Maddie’s, and then when you go back and re-read Julie’s, your brain explodes a little bit because it was all there the whole time.

Also the ending. MY HEART.

ACROSS A STAR-SWEPT SEA, by Diana Peterfreund

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my favourite stories of all time, so when I learned that DP had written a futuristic version where the Pimpernel was a teenage girl, I was SUPER EXCITED (well, first I emailed all my friends in the biz to yell at them for not telling me, but THEN I got super excited).

SEA is a high stakes thrill-ride of a book, combining politics, adventure, fascinating technology, star-crossed romances, excellent (if misplaced) police work, and a multitude of relationships (friendship, love, duty, siblings, inter-generational legacy, etc). Oh, and poetry. And a couple of really off the hook parties.

Persistence Blake is the best hero, best friend, best person a reader could ask for, and every time I re-read her story, I love it even more.

As a bonus: there’s another book set in the same world called FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS (it actually takes place prior to this one, though I think you can read them separately), that is the post-apocalyptic version of PERSUASION you never knew you needed.

THE STRANGE MAID, by Tessa Gratton

I think this one might actually be a perfect book. I can’t even really tell you why, except that Signy Valborn is my Patronus AND my nightmare (in the good way), and the world that Gratton built for her to stand on is some of the most amazing and complete world-building I have ever encountered.

Bonus: Not only is THE GODS OF NEW ASGARD a whole series, but there’s a short story about Glory/The Fenris Wolf (GLORY’S TEETH) that is so perfectly teen girl, my heart hurts just thinking about it.


Where to begin with Greta Gustafson-Stuart? A princess, a hostage, a genius, a stoic, a global threat, a death as inevitable as the winter in Saskatchewan, Greta is like no one I had ever read before, and I loved her immediately. She is grace under pressure with a spine of steel, who leads so naturally she scarcely even notices she’s doing it, and who faces her fate with more strength than some entire nations.

Until she decides maybe she would like a different fate altogether. And then she changes the world.

Bow’s writing is superlative. Terrifying and funny, high minded and earthy (there are a lot of goats), and always, always beautiful. When Greta opens her eyes, she is unstoppable, and this is the story of how she does it.

You will never look at cider the same way again.

FIRE, by Kristin Cashore

A monster-girl for a world full of monsters, so beautiful that everyone who sees her loves her and hates her and blames her for it, and powerful enough to take over the country if she wants to, like her father did before her. A girl who is kind instead of cruel, clever instead of ruthless, and thoughtful instead of reckless, even when it is the harder path, every time she chooses to take it.

Technically the second book in a trilogy, FIRE can be read (and loved) as a standalone. Cashore’s world-building is impeccable, the scope of her politics is massive, and the depth of each character’s motivations is astounding.

Also: casual sex without shame, Boys Being Made To Face The Consequences Of Their Actions, excellent friendships between the female characters, and an on-the-page bisexual heroine.


White had me at “what if Vlad Dracul had been a girl?”, and I never looked back. Lada is a vicious heroine, whose harsh nature is equal parts teeth and sheer determination. Intensely patriotic, she does not take well to being a hostage, and learns to play politics very, very quickly. I think I love her most especially because she actually has a heart. She just wilfully ignores it most of the time.

In addition to Lada’s fabulousness, White’s attention to detail, not a small part of historical fiction, is wonderful. The Ottoman Empire is not a time period that gets a lot of attention most of the time, but White’s treatment of it is impeccable. Also, it’s a trilogy, so there’s going to be a boatload more of it.


Thanks to EKJ's awesome publicly team, I have one paperback copy of A THOUSAND NIGHTS to giveaway to one lucky reader.

Just leave a comment below telling me your favourite YA read of all time.

Entry closes 17th July 2016

I'll announce the winner here on the blog so please check back to see if you've won - or leave your email in the comments!

Sharing and Following is always appreciated!

Thanks very much

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

As Black As Ebony - Book Review

As Black As Ebony - Book Review
Salla Simukka
YA Thriller
Lumikki Andersson #3
UK Publisher: Hot Key Books

Other books in the series:

As Red As Blood #1 - Review HERE
As White As Snow #2 - Review HERE


Lumikki has a new boyfriend — easygoing, gorgeous Sampsa — but she is unfaithful in her dreams, longing for the electrifying touch of her ex, Blaze.

Then  the threats start arriving, from someone who seems to know Lumikki intimately. Sharing her fears risks deadly consequences; now she is more alone than ever.

When Blaze suddenly reappears, Lumikki is torn. She can’t deny the chemistry between them, but can she trust him? To stop the killer, Lumikki must uncover a dark secret that has haunted her family for years. 


This is the last book of the Lumikki Andersson trilogy, and for such a short novel, Salla Simukka really packs a lot of punch into each page. With beautiful prose, lots fairytale references and a very unpredictable plot line, I felt this trilogy was brought to a stunning conclusion.

A few months after her trip to Prague, Lumikki is now back in Poland and is at last settling into a normal high school life. She has a new boyfriend, new friends, and has somehow landed the starring role in the school play. Yet her past continues to haunt her. Surfacing in her dreams each night through broken memories.

Then she receives a letter. She is being watched. And her new stalker knows the truth about Lumikki’s childhood. The childhood Lumikki herself has forgotten. Now with tasks hidden behind thinly veiled threats, Lumikki is forced to meet her stalkers demands. She must unlock her memories. But all she can recall is one little girl, and lots of blood…

This was such a good book. The writing is uniquely beautiful, full of flowery sentences but brushed with darker undertones. Like thorns hiding beneath pretty petals, each word morphs together to paint vivid yet often melancholy scenes. A truly fantastic and spellbinding story.

As with the first two books, I was drawn to Lumikki’s character. Her strong survival instincts, her quick thinking and generally passive attitude toward others. She is not your typical teenager. However I did think she came across as a little different in this book.

In the previous stories Lumikki seemed more sure-footed and rational. Then again she was mostly dealing with other peoples problems. Yet in this third and final book Lumikki undergoes a mental journey, which made her appear more fragile. She couldn't stay dispassionate about her own life, and this newfound rashness was clear in each of her choices. However Lumikki was still a kick-ass-heroine. 

In terms of other characters, I was pleased we finally got to meet Blaze outside of a flashback. I love that Lumikki’s first love was with a transgender girl, and really thought this unconventional (but awesome) romance epitomised Lumikki’s personality.

I also liked the contrast Sampsa (Lumikki’s current boyfriend) provided. He is the opposite of everything Lumikki has known and I was happy to see Lumikki with someone so loving. 

However even with a small cast of only seven or eight characters, I was never able to work out who the stalker was. Huge kudos to Salla Simukka for all those red herrings! When the culprit was revealed I was totally surprised and this really made the book doubly enjoyable. Generally I’m really good at figuring out the “who done it?” stories - it was nice to be stumped for once.

Otherwise the biggest thing that drove this book forward was the plot. For the past two books, there has always been a hint of Lumkki’s dark past. Now in this final instalment we finally get to see that past revealed. 

Simply put, it was a great read. Everything was tidied up nicely and no box was left un-ticked. A truly satisfying conclusion.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this series. Although each book is pretty short, each is packed with so much story that it’s just the perfect length. These are great books for anyone looking for a quick, action packed read. Fans of Holly Black or Melissa Meyer, this is definitely a trilogy you should check out.

4 stars!

Monday, 4 July 2016

King Slayer - Book review

King Slayer - Book Review
Virginia Boecker
YA Medieval Fantasy
The Witch Hunter series Book #2
UK Publisher: Orchard


Former witch hunter Elizabeth Grey is hiding within the magically protected village of Harrow, evading the prince put on her head by Lord Blackwell, the usurper King of Anglia. Their last encounter left Blackwell ruined, but his christ for power grows stronger everyday. He’s readying for a war against those who would resist his rule—namely Elizabeth and the witches, wizards, pirates and healers she now calls her friends.

Having lost her Stigma, a magical source of protection and healing, Elizabeth’s strength is tested both physically and emotionally. War always means sacrifice, and as the lines between good and evil blur one more, Elizabeth must decide just how far she will go to save those she loves.


The is the second and final book of Virginia Boecker’s Witch Hunter series. I found it to be a nice, simple sort of read that I think anyone in search of a bit of light-hearted fantasy will enjoy. With plenty of sword fights, a few enchanted creatures, some undead warriors and lots of magic — it has all the base elements of a good story.

Now a wanted fugitive with a price on her head, Elizabeth finds herself sheltering with the very people who were once her enemies. Witches. And although her presence raises animosity from the villagers, both Elizabeth and the magical community have a common goal. To eliminate Blackwell, the usurper King. 

But Blackwell has grown stronger since their last encounter, and now he has an army of the undead at his disposal. He will do anything to see Elizabeth put in her grave and the witch rebellion subdued. Now time is running out for Elizabeth, and with her own magical protection— the Stigma— gone, Elizabeth must quickly learn how to survive without it. Otherwise she, and everyone she has come to care about, will die...

Plot wise, I found this book moved at a fast pace with lots of action and magical mayhem. However it was less character orientated than the last book, with many of the secondary characters only getting a few short scenes each. This of course left little room for the characters to develop. I felt with a bit more meat, this series could easily have spanned into three books.

Although saying that, this story was very much focused on the heroine, Elizabeth. She suffers through many physical and emotional changes, but at the heart remains the feisty heroine we came to love in the first book. While I found her a little angsty at times, she quickly snaps out of it and dives right back into the action.

A few new characters were also introduced  - all who added a little something more to the story. I was especially happy that we got to meet Malcolm, the former king, who inadvertently set Elizabeth on this path of ill-fated events. I found it interesting too that as much as I wanted to hate him for what he’d done to Elizabeth, I couldn’t. There was such an air of childish innocence about him that I couldn't help but pity him. 

John however… I must confess I didn't really like him much in the first book. And I liked him even less in this one. Despite the plot that surrounded his character, I felt his mood swings were too conveniently blamed on magic. He seemed to go back and forth without any real trigger. Again, I think this would have worked better if there had been three books allowing the good John/ bad John story arch to be stretched out. 

Overall though I liked this book, and look forward to reading the upcoming Novella’s that centre around the secondary characters. 

A nice read for a rainy afternoon, all in all I give KING SLAYER 3 stars!